Old Europe’s Remnants


Although we know quite a bit about the artifacts, ways of making a living, and recently even the DNA of  Europe’s first farmers, we don’t know anything about their language or much about what they thought or believed in.  Old Europe was one of the more advanced parts of the world, especially in metallurgy, but they don’t seem to have developed writing. The Sardinians are genetically very similar to those EEF farmers, but I doubt that they can tell us much about the old culture.  It’s been a long time.

Gimbutas thought she could reconstruct those cultures from  female figurines and Lithuanian old wive’s tales, but that was ridiculous.

On the other hand, we know a lot about the language of the invaders,  and have figured out a fair amount about Indo-European culture from linguistic archaeology. We can see that something new was added to the European genetic mix,  but we aren’t sure where those invaders originated.  That might be resolved, fairly soon.

We know that the Indo-Europeans crushed Old Europe and eventually imposed their language almost everywhere in Europe ( except for the Basques), but it didn’t happen all at once. I’m wondering if there were any cultures related to Old Europe – not just the high culture in the Balkans, but EEF culture more generally –  that  survived long enough for us to learn more about them.  In particular, I’m wondering if the Minoan culture was a product of this tradition.  EEF farmers certainly settled Crete, and I don’t think that any Indo-European types showed up there until the Mycenaean Greeks –  although I could be wrong about that.  It seems likely that the Minoans spoke a non-Indo-European language.


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39 Responses to Old Europe’s Remnants

  1. Sid says:

    The Etruscans are another possible link to Old Europe. Their language was almost certainly non-Indo-European, and they were still around up to historical times.

    In general, the Old Europeans were remarkable artists. Etruscan painting is very enchanting, and the Minoans also had very lovely, dreamlike paintings. Santorini’s culture, before it was destroyed, produced particularly interesting frescos: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Wall_painting_of_the_Blue_monkeys.jpg

    • Chris B says:

      Has anyone done a genetic study on the etruscans? Would love to find out if the eastern immigrant\indiginous origin question has been resolved.

      • Sid says:

        I am on vacation in Turkey, and I visited Yazılıkaya, Hattuşa, and Alaca Höyük. Some of the sculpture work I saw, both at these sites and the ones I saw at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum two days prior in Ankara, reminded me of the Minoan artwork. The Hattians, who spoke non-Indo-European languages before the Hittites came driving by, seemed to have held bulls in the same kind of religious esteem as the Minoans did. I don’t know if there are any connections between the Minoans and Hattians, but perhaps they were related peoples, both Old European.

    • Difference Maker says:

      Minoan artwork can certainly be charming; their profiles of women, and boys sparring

      As for the Etruscans however, I am of a mind with the Romans in despising their frivolity and decadence.

  2. a very knowing American says:

    Granted, Gimbutas could be pretty over-the-top. But Elizabeth Barber, “The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance” is worth taking a look at for what folklore might be able to tell us. She’s also done work on textile traditions, where Old Europe looks different from Indo-Europeans, with possible social implications. (You’ve got to be willing to dig into technical details of weaving to follow this.) We may be able to find out something about Old European religion by reconstructing a pre-Indo-European stratum. For social organization, matrilineal (NOT matriarchal, not necessarily peaceful) survivals peeking out from underneath Indo-Eurpean patrilineality seem plausible; Margalit Finkelberg makes the case in “Greeks and Pre-Greek: Aegean Prehistory and Greek Heroic Tradition.” All this is necessarily more tentative than what you can get from linguistic reconstruction, which seems to be out of the question, until somebody cracks Linear A.

    • dearieme says:

      “For social organization, matrilineal … survivals”: the Picts chose their Kings on a matrilineal principle.

      • Bruce says:

        So says Bede, but Anna Ritchie, in her book about the Picts, indicates that this is disputed by modern scholars.

        • EdwardM says:

          It is disputed, of course (what isn’t?), but Bede was probably in a better position to know, as the Pictish kingdom was still a going concern in his day. His evidence does carry some weight.

  3. a very knowing American says:

    A tidbit on textiles. Elizabeth Barber argues that the swirly cursive style of Celtic art has its origins in textile traditions. If you’re working with felt, stitching a straight line of decoration creates a line along which the fabric tears easily. Swirls work better. Felt is a big deal if you’re a nomad. Europeans switch to woolier sheep around the time of putative Indo-European invasions, consistent with wool becoming important for making felt tents/yurts.

  4. bb753 says:

    Iberians. Lived on both sides of the Pyrenees, like the Basques. Definitely not Indo-European. We have artifacts, writings, and sculptures. The language could be related to Sumerian.

    • Matt says:

      Good suggestion, though, thing with the Nuragics and Iberians, is that, while they seem to be non-Indo European, seems hard to back project from them to what Old Europe was like (to the degree it was homogenous anyway) because they’re maybe hardened survivors to an extent.

      It’s not quite on the order of trying to work out who the Early Levantine Farmers were by means of the Bedouin, who may be the closest to pure descendants, never mind that the Bedouin are late Iron Age and then some herders, more the future of early pastoralists like the Indo Europeans may have been than the past of farmers. Or Eastern Mediterranean Romans via Ashkenazi Jews, who may be the closest purest descendants (never mind… it’s obvious).

      Minoans are (although distant) closer in time and place to the culture we’d call the centre of Old Europe – riparian plains of Southeastern Europe north of the hard, mountainous territory of Greece and the Balkans, before around 3500 BC.

  5. dearieme says:

    There is (or used to be) speculation that a non-Indo-European language survived into the Dark Ages in northern Scotland. For example, Columba told of having met an old man who spoke a tongue that was not Irish, British, or Pictish. Similarly, in Pictish territory there have been found carved stones with Ogham lettering that are pronounceable but untranslatable.

    For all I know there may be similar examples from Ireland.

  6. “All this is necessarily more tentative than what you can get from linguistic reconstruction, which seems to be out of the question, until somebody cracks Linear A.”

    Sadly, if the Linear B tablets are anything to go by, we likely won’t get more than inventories of storerooms.

    • Jim says:

      In addition to the inventories there are also routine administrative and bureaucratic correspondence. It tells us something about the governmental operations and the economics of the Mycenaean cities. The Mayan inscriptions also are rather disappointing in their contents. Mostly they tell us what a great guy the local ruler was.

    • Jim says:

      Written language was not invented by poets, it was invented by accountants.

  7. Seehûn says:

    Greg, wondering if you have an opinion or any insight on whether Egypt’s encounter with the “Sea Peoples” might be related to this somehow. The timing seems like it would work as an “Old Europe” population retreating from an invading force.

    The Sea Peoples and their place in Mediterranean history have always fascinated me, and this would seem to make sense if the timeframe matches up like I think it might (13th century B.C., or would that be to late for “Old Europe”?). Regardless, considering the evidence that the Sea Peoples were refugees of some kind, it seems to me that you wouldn’t run south toward a mighty empire like Egypt unless you were absolutely terrified of what was coming from the north.

    • Paul Conroy says:

      I think the Sea Peoples are possibly R1b bearers, and they derived from peoples living near the Taurus Mountains, in the Northern Levant/Syria region, and spread South and West from there.

      Irish Gaelic legend connects the Celts with Scythians, who came by boat to the Middle East – probably across the Black Sea – and from there invaded Egypt, then roved much further West,settling in Spain, before heading North to Ireland.

      I also think the Sea Peoples, also known as Sherden, from whom Sardinia is named after, seem to move across the Mediterranean East to West, by boat, island hopping.

      Maybe the Sea Peoples who settled in Spain founded the Tartessos Culture, which some linguists argue spoke a Celtic or pre-Celtic language…



      Alternatively these people could have settled parts of Sardinia and Corsica and come ashore in Liguria, and spread outwards from there…

      In any case, it would seem that some R1b spread from West to East in Western Europe, possibly from a source in Iberia or else Liguria – a source which also brought mtDNA H from Iberia towards Central Europe.
      I remember some linguist arguing that Germanic is best explained as a Baltic sub-strate + Celtic super-strate language. I think. the Balto-Slavic languages were carried largely by R1a bearing males….

    • Jim says:

      I’ve noticed on Amazon a book by Eric Cline entitled “1177 BC The Year Civilization Collapsed” has just been released. You might be interested in it.

  8. Kate says:

    I thought that maybe the reason why we know so little about Old Europe is because it was behind the Iron Curtain. I literally knew nothing of East Europe growing up.
    I don’t know how reliable the link quoted in this link is, but it’s an interesting idea that Ukrainian is the closest to Old Europe-Speak.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      from my recent reading seems places like Romania and Bulgaria – where a lot of this happened – were too broke to fully research this and what what they did do didn’t always get translated westwards.

  9. Kate says:

    The Minoan priest and priestess from Anemospilia*, circa 1700 BC, look like Wallander and Geneviève Bujold.

    * (scroll down for pictures) http://historum.com/ancient-history/19985-what-did-ancients-look-like-3.html

  10. Robert King says:

    It looks like we were all barking up the wrong tree. Apparently only ten genes separate humans from mice. Any differences between our so-called species must be therefore due to “culture”

    (Said a leading mouse)

  11. Philip Neal says:

    Why are you so certain that the Mycenaeans were the first Indo-Europeans in Crete? The well-known place names and river names ending in -ssos and -nthos (including the Cretan Knossos and Labyrinthos) have often been claimed as evidence that Anatolians preceded the Greeeks in Greece.

    As for writing, the Vinča symbols may or may not be proto-writing.

    • Jim says:

      I thought -os and -nth were considered non-Indo-European?

      • Philip Neal says:

        There is more than one theory. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov favour an Anatolian origin for these words (I 799-804). The name Parnassos is found in Anatolia and is often claimed to contain Luvian parna, ‘house’ or ‘temple’. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov identify loan words in Greek from Hittite (e.g. ichor, ‘blood’, Hittite ishar) and also South Caucasian (e.g. koas, ‘fleece’, Georgian t’q’avi) – they are very interesting on the story of the Argonauts.

      • Jim says:

        When you say “Anatolian” do you mean the Anatolian branch of Indo-European or is “Anatolian” a general reference to languages spoken in Anatolia, many of which are non-Indo-European.

      • Jim says:

        South Caucasian wouldn’t be Indo-European.

      • Philip Neal says:

        Jim: yes, they mean the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family. Of course South Caucasian is not Indo-European, the point is that these loan words indicate that the Greeks migrated from a previous home to the east of the Hittite lands.

      • Jim says:

        “kaos” and “t’qavi” are supposed to be related?

  12. Paul Allen says:

    If IE people crushed old Europe, they did so over the course of several thousand years. There were significant population upheavals associated with the Varna culture in Bulgaria (and possibly Greece) that could correspond to an intrusion of proto-Anatolian speakers approximately 6,000 years ago. However the region was later inundated with elements of “old Europe” (Minoan Goddess worship, etc.), perhaps evidencing a La Raza Reconquista, before once again being Indo-Europeanized in the Iron Age.

    Kristian Kirstiansen’s book on Bronze Age culture also demonstrates the remarkable breadth of influence of Minoan culture. It seems to have been instrumental in the culture of the Nordic Bronze Age, which was otherwise characterized by traditional IE elements, like Chariots. The culture of the Nordic Bronze Age seems to have vanished as well before re-emerging much later as a different type of culture with old Europe and Steppe elements.

    In short it seems that the population movements throughout the period were far more complex than Gimbutas’s racial blitzkrieg model allows.

  13. dave chamberlin says:

    It is very frustrating how little we know about this period in time. They call it pre-history for a reason, because we know so little. I like how contemptuous Cochran is of many of the “experts” from this time period because many of them are ego driven to promote their own theories which they rarely admit are just guesses. It’s fine to guess as long as you admit it and quickly adapt to new evidence which these “scholars” rarely do.

    There is an absolute treasure trove of well preserved evidence lying at the bottom of the Black Sea, because every ship that has sunk below two hundred feet of water is resting in a dead zone with no oxygen. There had to be a lot of commerce between Turkey and the Danube River which would take all boats across the Black Sea. The Black Sea is well known for it’s sudden violent storms that must have taken thousands of cargo laden boats to the bottom where they lie to this day stunningly well preserved because no oxygen in the water means negligible decay. These boats weren’t that large and they are no doubt buried in soft silt that has snowed to the bottom for thousands of years since these boats sunk. I wish for one billionaire to leave much of his fortune to building a ship that is designed with huge scoops that can be lowered to the bottom and can take a one hundred foot bite exactly where these boats lie and bring it up to the surface where archeologists can painstakingly examine what these boats carried. It would cost an absolute fortune just to map all the wrecks on the bottom of the Black Sea, let alone build a boat that can scoop them up and bring them to a large team of archeologists who would slowly unearth what these boats carried. Call me a fool and a dreamer and you would be right. To be given back our lost history of ancient times has a worth that makes this ridiculously difficult endeavor worth every penny. This project might be as difficult and expensive as finding life in our solar system, maybe below the surface on Mars, maybe below the ice on Europa, maybe nowhere at all. But if you don’t think big and dream big you are surrendering.

    I’m a worm under the sun
    I live in the soil and live on my dreams
    and the sun that kills is beautiful

  14. B&B says:

    Look in the folklore from the Pyrennees through the Alps and the Caucasus to the Hindukush.

    Click to access Origin%20of%20Burushos.pdf

    And in the archives of the Mankind Quarterly.for older papers by Gayre, Battaglia and pro ably others. A suite of cultural traits connects Sardinia to places like Crete and Egypt, and to Atlantic Europe.

    And at Old European musical styles.

    I hope this helps.

    Also a pre-Neolithic substrate language?

  15. Matthew M. Robare says:

    B&B, My understanding is that the proposed link between Basque and the Caucuses was disproven.

    Moreover, as a good example of the problems of folklore: the Basques didn’t become confined to the Pyrenees until relatively recently. Navarre was incorporated into France in 1620 while Pamplona was conquered by Spain in 1524. Even then the real assault on their culture wouldn’t have begun until 19th century racial and national threories.

  16. ehrgeiz0 says:

    Based on linguistic reconstruction, Etruscan is believed by some to be a Dravidian language like those spoken in what is now southern India.

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